I am often asked how I keep my motivation to run everyday, so I decided to explain how I changed my outlook on running, and harnessing the enjoyment.

Some people run for the competition; be that with other people or simply themselves. If this works for you then that’s great, and I appreciate that it’s almost a requirement for elite athletes. I however find that doesn’t work for me- having had unhealthy relationships with food and exercise I now, after a long time know how to keep my mind and body healthy. I no longer use apps to track my mileage and performance, and I regularly either run without my smart watch or keep it covered up.

I am frequently asked questions such as how I keep my motivation to run everyday, the distances I do, what my pace is, what my marathon PB is, what my fastest ultra has been. The truth is I have stopped chasing PB’s and any particular pace.

For a long time I would wake up everyday and tell myself “I’m going to smash that route today”, and immediately if my watch wasn’t indicating a positive performance which shows before mile 1, my head was in a bad place and my mood sank, and of course as expected so did my performance. Fast forward to the end of the run and I would feel sick with guilt that I had let myself down, and there was the start of the vicious cycle of changing my eating patterns either as a “punishment” or as a control mechanism to make myself perform better.

I no longer use social exercise tracking apps for similar reasons; for years I used a popular app which allows you to follow others and track your weekly mileage and performance. It quickly consumed me and became a seriously unhealthy relationship- my weekly mileage would be anywhere between 30-70 miles which in hindsight is pretty spectacular, but I would then see people hitting 100, and the short lived elation quickly resorted to self loathing and disappointment. The same went for pace, elevation, distance; every statistic that was available to analyse I would compare myself to my peers and very rarely had a positive outcome. I would push myself so hard for the fear of my pace being open to the world to see and being “too slow” and “embarrassing”.

After too long of hammering and punishing my body- physically and mentally, I made the decision to delete the app and only use my watch and the software it came with. The first few days were liberating, and I felt like a new person- running through the trails with the wind in my hair and not a care in the world… this literally lasted a few days and I had this ache, this yearning to check my performance and stats against the others. I lapsed and took to the stats machine yet again, this time culling who I followed and changing my privacy settings to private, so my stats were not available for all to see (or in my head, scrutinising). Again, I felt like this was enough to ensure my obsessive behaviour was kept at bay, as I didn’t have the immediate access of opening the app, and seeing a world of miles and elevation. Again, it lasted a little while, but I regularly found myself beating myself up, through what I was eating, and how hard i was training.

After making some tough love decisions about what was serving me, what was making me happy, and what wasn’t, there were a few big upheavals in my life; I ended a long term relationship, and undertook a relocation; I had this sudden realisation of what is important and why I run. I looked back at everything I had been through and soon realised I had been training and pushing myself to the lengths I had been as a control mechanism for so many things in my life. It was the only thing I had complete control over, or so I thought. Something I know now so many people are doing and are struggling to stop the cycle of. Turns out that the hardest decision was the best one I’ve ever made and I realised my health and my happiness are, and always will be paramount.

In the moment of being outdoors and running, whether that is alone or with my dogs, I am in a place of pure and unadulterated happiness- complete liberation and with zero judgement from anyone. This is the joy of the outdoors, there are no pre requisite requirements, no gender, age, or race bias. I never fail to experience the child like sense of wonder I get when I’m in the outdoors. So I needed to find a way to capitalise on this, how to harness this happiness without the inevitable self hatred creeping in. Turns out the solution was pretty simple for me, removing all pressure, and running for the pure and simple enjoyment. The minute you are able to harness pure enjoyment from something is the minute it no longer becomes a chore.

I do run every day, and track my runs on most occasions still, but I rarely analyse my stats. I roughly plan my runs and have weekly plans, always having a long run in the hills planned. This is no longer ever a chore; I plan my route on a map, check the weather for the best day, and get myself really psyched up for it. It is usually my favourite day of the week. I also regularly run without my watch tracking as it is extremely liberating.

I used to wake up and think “how far have I got to run today”, with “got” being the pivotal word in that thought. The stress of failure would consume me and made the entire experience completely tireless.

The ability to make that switch in your head of running because you “have” to, to running because you “want” to has been life changing for me. The mantras of “just getting out there” and “getting it done” are all well and good and certainly have a time and a place in running and training as even to run for enjoyment you still need to ensure you cover the fundamentals, the boring bits, the “brushing your teeth” things such as core work, intervals, and some hill sprints.

Do I remember this everyday? No. Do I have wobbles? Yes. Of course this happens and I have occasional head battles if my pace feels slow, or I feel that even 5k is a struggle sometimes, but whenever this happens I stop, look around, and remind myself why I run and the joy it brings me.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Be that with others, or even yourself and your previous runs.

Harness this enjoyment in what you’re doing, remove the pressure, and hopefully you will experience the pure and innate happiness that being outside and running can bring you.

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Alexandra Long

from Edinburgh

Age group: 25-35

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